CORA update gets an assist from Scott
By the time the state Senate committee chaired by Ray Scott voted Wednesday on a bill intended to modernize the Colorado Open Records Act, it had been amended to the point that it may actually limit disclosure of certain kinds of information.
While that may prove to be a problem, supporters celebrated the fact that Senate Bill 40 survived the State, Veterans and Military Affairs committee on a 4-1 vote, allowing for a more vigorous debate about the availability and accessibility of public records in the digital age.
The intent of the bill is to make existing public records available in a “structured, searchable format” if requested. The bill doesn’t alter the type of data or records currently available under the law — just the manner in which they’re delivered.
But updating the law has proven nettlesome. Opponents trotted out a series of objections and hypotheticals suggesting that fulfillment of digital-format requests could compromise security, increase exposure to liability and unnecessarily burden smaller government entities — even though SB 40 includes exceptions that address these concerns.
Under questioning from committee members, witnesses seemed to agree that the information at the heart of their concerns is public data, but providing it in an easier or more useful format carries potentially damaging consequences.
The bill, sponsored by Sen. John Kefalas, D-Fort Collins, is similar to a bill that died in committee last year. Since then, he’s engaged a number of stakeholders, listened to their concerns and delivered a compromise bill that has the support of the offices of the Secretary of State and the Attorney General’s Office.
The Attorney General’s Office offered amendments safeguarding personal and confidential information and giving records custodians latitude to deny access to any record that could “harm the safety or security” of a person. The latter is a broad exemption that deserves closer scrutiny. It will get it if the bill moves past the Senate Appropriations Committee.
A Sentinel editorial urging Sen. Scott, R-Grand Junction, to announce a hearing on the bill after it was postponed earlier this month was the flashpoint of Scott’s infamous tweet accusing the Sentinel of publishing “fake news.”
His reaction was a needless distraction. Scott ran a smooth hearing Wednesday and voted to advance the bill out of committee. Had the bill died, we wouldn’t have isolated Scott as the reason for its demise. He was one of five votes. The editorial simply carried the hope that a bill aimed at promoting more open and transparent government would get a fair hearing. It did. It moved forward in bipartisan fashion.
After the vote, Scott tweeted “100% transparency, better bill today than before.” We agree and we appreciate Scott’s role in ensuring that this important conversation can continue. Colorado is behind the times. Making public records more easily available in digital format is a step long overdue.